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Lesson Transcript

Hi everybody! Candice here. Welcome to Ask a Teacher, where I’ll answer some of your most common French questions.
The question for this lesson is: What are reflexive pronouns and when do you use them?
Before we get into pronouns, let’s cover the basics: every sentence has a subject and an object. For example, in the sentence J'ai acheté un parapluie, which means, “I bought an umbrella,” je, which is “I,” is the subject and un parapluie, which is “an umbrella,” is the object.
With some sentences, the subject and the object are the same. This is when you use reflexive pronouns. Some common examples are: se laver, meaning “to wash oneself,” s'adresser à, “to address oneself to,” se coucher, “to put oneself to bed,” and s'habiller, “to dress oneself.”
When we say “reflexive verbs” in French, we mean verbs that use reflexive pronouns, like the verbs se brosser, s'adresser, s'habiller, s'énerver, se fâcher, and s'imaginer. They all have the pronoun se or s’ before the verb and they generally mean that the subject of the verb is asking on itself.
The reflexive pronouns are me with je, (for myself) te with tu, (for yourself) se or s', if the word starts with a vowel, with il/elle (for himself and herself) ils/elles (for themselves,) and nous and vous. (for ourselves) They go in before the verb and after the subject.
For example, if you are going to go to sleep, you would say Je vais me coucher. If you and your family get up early in the morning, you'd say, Nous nous levons tôt le matin.
Because these verbs use the reflexive pronoun, their objects usually lack the possessive adjectives that appear in English. For example, Il se lave les mains means, “He washes his hands,” though if you translated it word for word, it would sound like "He washes the hands." This also goes for other phrases like Il se lave les cheveux, “He washes his hair,” and Il se brosse les dents for “He brushes his teeth.”
A common reflexive pronoun phrase we use in French is s'en aller, which means "to be on one's way." If your friend is getting ready to go, you might ask, Tu t'en vas? which means “You're leaving?” or “Are you on your way out?”
You can also use reflexive pronouns with emotions to make them stronger. For example, if you made your mother angry, you would say, elle s'est fâchée as in “she became angry.” Using the reflexive pronoun is stronger than elle était fâchée, as in “she was angry,” which just sounds like factual information.
Note that with reflexive pronouns, you conjugate the verb according to the subject. That's why fâchée has an extra -e in this case. If it were your father or your uncle who were angry, you would write, il s'est fâché.
Pretty interesting, right?
I hope that answers the question! If you have any more questions, please leave them in the comments below and I'll try to answer them!
A bientôt, see you soon!